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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What Horse Show People Can Learn from a Cat Show

In January, I attended a TICA cat show in Portland, Oregon. Although I'm a cat enthusiast, I don't show cats and am not very familiar with the cat show scene. So, the cat show provided a good window into what it might be like to attend a horse show as a member of the general public vs. an insider.

I found out about the cat show via a (free) listing in The Oregonian newspaper about events around town. The listing was published weekly, starting a few weeks before the show (i.e., not just the weekend of the show), so I had time to plan to attend. The show had also placed some paid advertisements in the "going out guide" section to build awareness. Obviously, these modest efforts worked - there were lots of spectators at the show.

The cat show made some good initial efforts to get spectators involved. The show awarded a "people's choice" prize, and upon entering the show, each spectator received a voting ballot. Show staff explained that the people's choice prize was highly sought after, and encouraged spectators to vote for their favorite cat.

However, upon entering the show, it was hard to tell what was going on. There were no schedules posted anywhere to help determine which cats would be judged at the various rings. When watching the judging and seeing various cages tagged, it was hard to tell what the tags meant - I had to ask another spectator. Some simple, straightforward informative signage could have helped educate spectators and help them understand what they were watching.

Most significant, perhaps, was my experience walking through the exhibitor and vendor areas. The show was set up in a hotel ballroom, with row upon row of caged cats in the middle, not unlike the barns at a horse show. In the aisles between cages, exhibitors and their friends were chatting, eating lunch and otherwise enjoying some downtime. I have an Oriental Shorthair cat, so I was especially interested in the Orientals at the show. I found one section with several cages of Orientals, and looked at the cats from a polite distance, taking care not to disturb them. I was hoping that the breeder standing nearby would see me looking at her cats and ask if she could answer any questions, but instead, she glared at me like I was trespassing and turned her back on me. So, I moved on the next section with Orientals. There, the breeder was quite personable and friendly, answered my questions very politely, and gave me one of her cards. Now, these two breeders are in the business of selling cats, but only one of them seemed to understand that spectators are potential customers. Guess which breeder I'm going to contact to purchase my next Oriental?!! Even if that first breeder had the very best cats available, I would never buy a cat from her.

Quite a few of the cages had signs indicating what breed the cat was, and what it's registered name and nicknames were. As a spectator, I found those little signs interesting and helpful. Some of the cats had notations on their signs about their various accomplishments - also fun to read. However, a few signs had rather abruptly worded admonitions to stay back and not touch the cat inside the cage, like the spectators were some kind of filthy riffraff who might sully the cats with their mere presence. The same goal surely could have been accomplished with a much more tactfully worded warning.

The show had a house pet division, in which unpedigreed cats could compete. I saw many of those exhibitors taking their cats out of their cages to meet and greet the public. Some of them gently asked spectators not to pet the cats so as not to spread disease, and others had hand santizer at the ready. Many of the house pet exhibitors eagerly answered questions and gave the spectators tips about watching the judging. If the spectators were thnking about what type of cat to get, surely the friendliness of this group would influence their decision.

There were various vendors with all sorts of cat-related items. Most of the vendors didn't seem to have much traffic through their booths and looked pretty bored. I thought that seemed like a great opportunity to ask questions about their products and the show. Most of the vendors cheerfully explained their products (the little handmade shorts were "stud pants"). I found some toys and catnip to buy as a little way of saying thank you for their friendlinss. One of the vendors, however, appeared to be irritated at being dragged away from his New York Times, so I didn't feel inspired to purchase anything at his booth.

In a time when horse show entries are shrinking, and youth kids are increasingly choosing other activities over horses, it's of paramount importance to welcome potential new participants to the horse industry. If spectators from the general public are interested enough to attend your show, with the right encouragement, they could very well become horse owners someday! So, make an effort to invite the public to your event, and once they are there, make them feel welcome. Encourage your exhibitors to be friendly to spectators, reminding the professionals that every spectator is a potential future customer. Have show management on hand to answer spectators' questions and help them enjoy the show. Make sure your vendors know in advance that members of the general public will be there, so they can bring any items they think might sell well to that audience. Overall, help make your show enjoyable for your spectators, and you just might see them in the show pen someday!

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